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Man attacked by chimps gets bionic hand

It's science-fiction come to life for a St. Louis man.
<p>Andrew Oberle with his bionic hand</p>

Editor's note: This story originally appeared on KSDK in May of 2016.

It's science-fiction come to life for a St. Louis man.

A bionic hand like the one worn by the Luke Skywalker in Star Wars has jumped off the movie screen into real life for Andrew Oberle.

Andrew lost his ears, nose, fingers, and toes when he was attacked by chimps while studying for his masters at the Jane Goodall Institute in South Africa.

The injuries he suffered in June of 2012 almost killed him. But in the years since then, he's been doing one remarkable thing after another.

Oberle, 30, of south St. Louis looks like he could be starring in a science fantasy movie. Or as one friend describes his life since the attack.

"He calls it the miracle that keeps moving," says Andrew.

A miracle, because many doctors told Andrew he would never walk again. But since returning to St. Louis, enduring more than two dozen surgeries and learning to live on his own again, Andrew's not just functional.

He's thriving. And the miracles keep coming.

"You can kind of feel it ratchet onto your hand so you really get a good grip," says Andrew.

The most recent miracle? Being fitted for a bionic hand made by Touch Bionics in Scotland.

"There's two sensors in it. There's one sensor right here that's placed on top of my my ring finger tendon and when I flex that tendon in almost like I'm curling that finger the fingers close and then the other sensor that's right back here on the back of my middle finger tendon. The sensors are interfacing with my biology so technically, yeah bionic," says Andrew.

It's all driven by a circuit board powered by two ion lithium batteries at the wrist. The memory stores basic finger positions. An app on his phone stores more, if he needs them.

"I still have to think a little bit about opening and closing moving those tendons to open the hand but it’s becoming a little more second nature," says Andrew.

Andrew's only had his bionic hand about a month but he's been using it so much he's already had to have two of the fingers replaced.

"It really shows that I'm using the thing and not afraid to use it not afraid to test its limits," says Andrew.

Testing the limits is what Andrew is doing professionally too. He's establishing the Oberle Institute at St. Louis University. The new program will help people like him, who've suffered traumatic injuries, rebuild body, mind, and spirit.

He's also showing off his hand.

"I've scared a couple little kids, not on purpose," says Andrew.

His bionic hand could have been made to match his skin tone exactly, like the one used by Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back. But Andrew, who is a long-time Star Wars fan chose to indulge his love of the movie, and make it look as robotic as possible.

"Just the fact that I lost a piece of me and now it’s not me completely but now I have this hand again that moves and has fingers that gives me the confidence to be like hey look at this hand as opposed to keeping it in my pocket."

So when you see Andrew, give him a handshake and be part of the miracle that keeps moving.

Photos: Andrew Oberle

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